DC Central Kitchen’s Healthy School Food team knows how to pivot. As the food service provider for 16 schools in Washington, DC, we source ingredients from more than 65 local family farms to provide scratch-cooked recipes designed by our expert team of chefs and dietitians with the help of thousands of student taste-testers.
However, since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, this DC Central Kitchen social enterprise has navigated one unprecedented challenge after another. “It was almost like starting a whole new meal service program,” said Chef Edward Kwitowski, Director of School Food Services.
It wasn’t just that food insecurity has grown by nearly 60% in DC, affecting another 12,000 children. Between school closures, distance learning, shifting Federal guidance, supply chain disruptions, and inclement weather, our award-winning Healthy School Food program has had to reinvent itself every few months.
Last week, the team even began piloting drive-up service at Kelly Miller Middle School in Ward 7 where students and their parents can pick up a prepared breakfast and lunch without having to leave their cars.
“We’re constantly readjusting, and then we readjust those adjustments,” said Shay McCray, Healthy School Foods Field Service Manager.
As a portion of DCPS students returned– to in–person learning earlier this month, we reimagined our cafeteria operations to safely serve students on-site while continuing to provide take-away meals for those whose families opted to continue distance learning from home.
McCray credits the team’s successful transition to their flexibility, foresight, and constant communication. By incorporating the feedback of individual team leads placed in each school site, we have been able to quickly identify and solve problems as well as prevent them from arising at other sites.
To prepare for changes in programming, the entire Healthy School Food team received additional training on vital topics like social distancing and food packaging while having critical conversations about wellness and leadership. “We have to acknowledge that this can be scary, but we’re here for each other,” said McCray.
We’re also finding new ways to be here for our students. “Before [the pandemic], we would go into the schools and teach nutrition education, do taste tests, and engage students in–person,” said Iris Alfaro, School Foods Program Coordinator. “All of that came to a halt.”
In need of new ways to connect, the team has developed creative ways to teach nutrition education, even from home. For example, to acknowledge Valentine’s Day, the group included cards with recipes highlighting heart–healthy foods.
As we approach the one-year mark of the pandemic in Washington, DC, the road to recovery may be long, but our school food superheroes are staying optimistic – and sticking together.
“Having such an amazing team has made this transition so much easier,” said Kwitowski.
To learn more about the Healthy School Foods program, visit https://dccentralkitchen.org/healthy-school-food/.